MARTIN (PART 1)
I would love to take up all the pain of my children. But you cannot, otherwise you deny them their right to live. They have to experience it. That is the most painful thing about parenting.
MORE SPANISH OR IRISH?
I think I’m equal parts. You know their cultures are so similar, and I didn’t realize it. I had gone to Spain for the first time in 1969, and I visited my father’s village up in Galicia. He was from Pontevedra, near Vigo. It had just gotten electricity, they had farm animals, and they lived out in the suburbs at the side of the mountain where the village was.
And then in 1973, about 3 or 4 years later, I visited my mother’s village in a little village called Borrisokane in County Tipperary in Ireland, right in the center of the republic and the similarities were astonishing. They were the same people, the same Celtic tribes--same people in the absolute sense--they had the same values, same love and concern for land, they coveted land. They were fiercely independent and shy people. They both like a little alcohol, but I found them to be both fascinating. I love both cultures. I rarely go to Europe where I don’t visit both countries. You can probably say I look more Irish than Spanish, but I never changed my name. I never will. I just started using “Sheen” and making my living with it, and then it was too late.
My dad is Spanish--my real name is Ramon Estevez, and that’s where Emilio, Ramon, and Renee get their name from. Charlie started using ‘Sheen,’ which I understood, but I wish he would have retained it. His real name is Carlos. When I was a boy, the first televangelist preacher on national television was Fulton J. Sheen, he was the archbishop of New York, and I was just fascinated by him. He would come on every Tuesday night, primetime, and give a lecture. He was enormously popular--he won an Emmy, and all that. I rarely understood the depths of what he was saying, he was pretty intellectual. When he came on, I would have been about 11 or 12 years old. He was on for years, but I thought of him as an actor. He was a very handsome, tall, thin man with riveting eyes. He was majestic and a powerful speaker, and I was mesmerized by him.
We were 9 boys and 1 girl. I certainly learned a lot from how my father dealt with all of us. My father was an extraordinary man. He was very shy outside the house. He was a factory worker. But in the house, he was a lion. Sometimes the chaos in the house would just go over his head, and suddenly one little thing would happen and he’d just get up and take care of everything in one fell swoop. He roared. My mother died when I was almost 11, so he ran the show, pretty much. He was alone--that was in 1951. He had the misfortune of being born on July the 2nd, 1898--if the date is resonating, it’s because it was the day the United States declared war on Spain.
ACTING, AND FRANCISCO ESTEVEZ
My father did not approve--he didn't have a clue, and I couldn't blame him, you know? And you know when I was in high school, I'd be doing plays. You know, I was always in a play. And I’d say, “You know Pop, I’m gonna be opening in a play.” I’d do 3 or 4 plays a year. I’d always tell him, “I’ve got tickets.” [And he’d say], “Oh honey, I’m gonna come…” He’d never show up. Never. It was part of his routine, you know? He’d say, “Oh honey, I’m very tired,” or something. He had this beautiful voice. He was great, but he’d always make an excuse not to go.
But one interesting thing about my father—I was 36 when he died—was that he still called me “honey” to the end. He called all of us, “honey.” Every one of his sons or daughter. The only time he ever saw me onstage was when I was on Broadway in 1965. I opened in '64 and I ran through all of '64. He was retired then, and I was in a play called “The Subject Was Roses,” and it was a story about fathers and sons, you know. And I was so excited, he came to New York and stayed with us for a week, while he waited for his boat. He took a boat from New Jersey to Spain. He was trying to go home and he was gonna live out his last years in Spain. He just retired. He got to Spain, he lasted six months 'cos he didn't know adversity. Nothing. It was like going back, and he was just, “No my children are American.” He came back.
But one interesting thing about my father—I was 36 when he died—was that he still called me “honey” to the end.
He was extraordinary. He came and stayed with us and that week, we would be dark on Monday, and on Tuesday, we got word that Mrs. Johnson, was coming to see the play with one of her daughters. The first lady, Lady Bird Johnson. I was so excited, and they told us to be prepared for a lot of security at the theater when we arrived. I had tickets for my dad, my sister and my brother, my wife--and I remember telling my Dad I was so excited because he would be in the audience with Mrs. Johnson. He said, “Oh no, I not going to that. No, I waiting. [said in a Spanish accent]. I said, “Oh come on it’s the first night!” [He said] “I not going to that! Tomorrow, but no in the night. Tomorrow...Too much, too much.” He was so shy.
He came the next night, after Mrs. Johnson and, I think, it was one of her daughters, Linda, came. We met them backstage, and they were just so charming and it was wonderful. It was a very proud moment for all of us. But no, he came the next night. He was hopelessly shy. If you passed him on the street, even if you knew him, he’d keep walking. If you stopped to talk to someone, he’d keep walking. He walked everywhere--he walked to the factory, he walked home, he walked to church, he’d come home--those are the two places he went to on a regular basis. He would go downtown every Wednesday night when I was a teenager. We’d make great fun of him. He joined what we called the “old man’s club.” He’d go down, and dance. Every Wednesday night. He’d pay. They used to have these ballrooms. He’d pay, you know? To dance. He was a remarkable man.
In March of 1977, I had a heart attack while we were filming “Apocalypse Now” in Pagsanjan in the Philippines, and I was sent to the Makati Medical Center. I was 36. I recovered and I was in Makati Medical Center at first, and for my follow up, I went to Santo Tomas.
In March of 1977, I had a heart attack while we were filming “Apocalypse Now”
I used to go up to the roof of Makati Medical to get some sun each day, because all the heart patients were on the top floor. Otherwise I’d just be sitting on the bed. There was this old man who always hides behind a tree, you could see he was puffing. He’s always looking around for the nurse. We got to know each other--he’s the brother of the President Ramon Magsaysay. He had a heart attack, and he wasn’t allowed to smoke. He’d look out when I’d come up, and I’d say, “It’s me.” He was a sweet old guy. President Magsaysay had already died by then.
I did one semester at the National University of Ireland. It was a wonderful cultural experience--something I had romanticized about for a long time. My dad wanted me to go to college, but I didn’t want to go and never did. I went right to New York from Ohio and started working in 1959. I had this romantic fantasy, for lack of a better term, of studying in my mother’s home country.
My dad wanted me to go to college, but I didn’t want to go and never did.
I just kept focusing on it, and finally when The West Wing announced that it would be ending in the Spring of 2006, I had just been offered to accept an honorary degree from the National University. I went over and got it, and the President and my friend Ignacio said, “Well, what do you wanna do?” I said I have enough degrees but what I want is an education, and I asked him if I can come over to the University and study. I said to him I was serious, I wanna give it a try for one semester. I lived in Ireland for 4 months.
I’ve been working with a lot of environmental groups, and I wanted to be able to know scientifically what was going on in the environment. I was allowed to study Earth and Ocean Science, computers, Philosophy, and English. I had a full curriculum. I didn’t take a grade in Science, because I had no background in it--I had no Physics nor Math--and so I was not qualified. I belonged in a junior college, but I wanted to do it and I’m glad I did it. I passed the first test I took, and I had an above average grade which I’m terribly proud of. It was difficult because they worked in the metric system, and in the United States, we do not. It was not easy for me but I’m glad I did it, and I understand now why people go to school when they’re young, because the energy and the focus. These young people can drink all day and study all night, and still show up to class the next day.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
Emilio [is most like me], without question. He is responsible in ways that I was, like my father. He is scrupulously honest. Oh God, [he is] scrupulously honest, and responsible. And boy, I look at Emilio, I see myself. He is stubborn, like me. It stands him well in this business. Emilio is extremely disciplined, he’s also equally sensitive. He doesn’t always let on that side. He’s like my father in that sense, he hides that--he’s very shy. Believe it or not, very shy. He is extremely courteous, and honestly loving.
I look at Emilio, I see myself.
He loves what he does. Watching him on the set is such a thrill to watch him direct because he is so caring and compassionate towards the actors. He loves the actors--he begins the scene by saying, “Action, please.” And then he ends the scene, “Cut, please. Thank you.” Every take, it’s just his natural way. One time we did a film he directed that nobody saw. If you have a chance to get it in the video store.
Kathy Bates and I played his parents. He was magnificent. He directed it, and starred in it. One day I came early to the set, and he was directing Kathy Bates, who is one of the best actresses in the world. He was directing her at a very deeply private moment. She had to look in the mirror and suddenly we have to realize that, she realizes something deeply personal, painful about herself. It was an extremely honest moment. Emilio was talking to her about that, and she’s listening to him. I thought, Kathy Bates is listening to him and allowing him to direct her. You know, what am I worried about? This kid knows what he’s doing. And he does. And he learned the hard way. It’s from a play in 1994 or 95.
He remembered something I had totally forgotten about. We were in Mexico in 1969 in January, doing Catch-22. We were there for 4 months. And we came over here to Los Angeles, it was either late April or early May. I had rented a car in Tucson, Arizona and we drove to Los Angeles and didn’t stop anywhere until we went right to the Ambassador Hotel. And I took the family in the kitchen, and he remembered it. He was 7, he was born in ‘62. He never forgot it. And I had forgotten all about it. That was the first thing I did when I came to Los Angeles. Right in the kitchen, I told the lads, "This is sacred ground, this is where the music stopped." I had forgotten that journey, it was like a pilgrimage. I was just determined to do it. I was 28.
[The toughest thing we went through with our kids]--It would have to be without question, sticking it out with Charlie. There were valleys and hills, you know, it was a rollercoaster ride. Because so often there would be a reason to celebrate and rejoice, and then you’d be devastated by equal moments of darkness and despair. They culminated the year he finally got sober. I guess he was very close to the end.
Right in the kitchen, I told the lads, "This is sacred ground, this is where the music stopped."
My fondest memories? God, they’re so endless, you know. It’s a lifetime of memories. The best and the worst is yet to come. As a parent, what you wanna do, your natural inclination is to protect them from everything. And you must do this. But when they start heading for the door, you know, you have to open the door for them, or at least unlock it. If you don’t, then they won’t come back. You have to let them know...
As soon as you start helping your child walk, they start to become independent. And if you prevent their growth, then they resent it. And, it’s the most difficult, fine line to walk--is enough to let them go, and know you will welcome back. Because otherwise it’s just like holding a little animal or a bird. “I’m afraid you’re gonna get eaten by the hawk.” And you cripple the bird, the bird does not learn to fly. So you cripple it. Vis a vis, your own love is true. It’s not courageous enough. It’s selfish. Your love is selfish that way. It’s natural, all of us feel that way. I would love to take up all the pain of my children. But you cannot, otherwise you deny them their right to live. They have to experience it. That is the most painful thing about parenting. It’s knowing they have to do this, and there’s nothing you can do. Just be there for them, love them all the more, unconditionally. Totally and completely, love them. Let them know that that door is always, always, always unlocked--which is really the door to your heart.
Totally and completely, love them. Let them know that that door is always, always, always unlocked--which is really the door to your heart.
PART 1 of conversations with actor, Martin Sheen
(Grace & Frankie, The Amazing Spiderman 2, The Departed, Catch Me if You Can, Wall Street, Apocalypse Now, etc.) and Kariz Favis
Main photo by Benjamin James